Article: We are looking for new ways to build & amplify our culture: Kmart Group’s Chief People & Capability Officer

Strategic HR

We are looking for new ways to build & amplify our culture: Kmart Group’s Chief People & Capability Officer

Hybrid working is here to stay, however, it is about balance — face to face working in an office environment will still be an important element for organizations from a cultural and engagement perspective, says Tristram Gray, Chief People & Capability Officer, Kmart Group, in an interaction with us.
We are looking for new ways to build & amplify our culture: Kmart Group’s Chief People & Capability Officer

READ the June 2021 issue of our magazine: The Digital Culture Reset

Tristram joined the Kmart business in February 2018 as the General Manager of Human Resources. Upon the establishment of the Kmart Group in January 2019, Tristram was appointed to Chief People & Capability Officer for the Kmart Group globally and leads the People & Capability function which spans across Kmart and Target (Australia and New Zealand), Kmart Group Asia, Anko International and recently acquired Australian online retailer Catch. Tristram is responsible for the Kmart Group’s People Strategy with key focus areas on Talent, Culture, Leadership, People Systems, and Future of Work for over 50,000 team members. 

Prior to Kmart, Tristram was the Vice President and Head of Human Resources for Ericsson Southeast Asia, Oceania, and India where he led an award-winning team based in over ten countries, covering 40 markets and approximately 17,000 employees, and was responsible for Ericsson’s People Strategy in the region. Tristram held other senior HR roles within Ericsson and several senior HR and Employee Relations roles with some of Australia’s largest national retailers as part of the Coles Group. Tristram commenced his career as an industrial relations specialist in the construction industry.

Tristram’s career has spanned more than 25 years, in complex, varied business environments, cultures, and industries – ranging from those experiencing rapid growth to those which have required a fundamental business turnaround.

Here are the excerpts.

Is the worst part of the COVID-19 crisis behind us? Or the world of work has changed forever?

I would like to hope that the worst of the COVID-19 crisis is behind us. However the virus is very unpredictable and in recent months it has mutated into many variants, so I think it will be with us and impacting our lives, businesses, work experiences, and travel for some time to come. To this extent I think the world of work has changed forever, and in a lot of ways for the better. The acceleration of hybrid working and increased team member flexibility has been a positive for employees, and the rapid adoption and advancement of video communication tools such as ZOOM and Microsoft teams have enabled remote working in a productive and positive manner like never before and this will not change.

According to several experts, remote or hybrid work is going to stick around for long, but some of the biggies in the corporate world are rallying to get employees back in offices. What’s your take on this?

I agree that hybrid working is here to stay, however, it is about balance. I believe that face-to-face working in an office environment will still be an important element for organizations from a cultural and engagement/connection perspective. This will be especially important in roles where high levels of collaboration and innovation are required, or there is a high importance on customer interaction and relationships with colleagues is required. At Kmart, we are encouraging full-time team members to be in the office at least three days per week for this purpose and are finding a lot of employees have been keen to return.


How can organizations continue to prioritize creating a work ‘culture’ that promotes change and innovation post-COVID-19? How are you reinventing your culture?

As mentioned previously we feel a reasonable level of face-to-face connection and relationship building is required to both nurture and develop our culture. We are not looking to reinvent our culture or our aspirations for it, rather we are looking for new ways and opportunities to build it and amplify it in a post-COVID-19 world.

The pandemic has taught us that we don't need to be sitting at an office desk to be productive. But work from home has its own downsides. How do you see this equation pan out in the post-pandemic days?

Working from home has many positives. It reduces wasted commute times, enables a closer connection with family and friends, provides increased amounts of “concentration-time”, free of interruptions, and a quieter environment than open-plan offices which have become the norm in recent years. However, there are several downsides. These include a feeling that team members are working longer than they used to previously and there is no natural break from work to home life, in fact, work is just around the corner 24/7 in the home office, kitchen, or whichever room the employee utilizes to work from home. This, in my view, has led to higher levels of fatigue, an inability to switch off and back-to-back zoom/Microsoft teams meetings especially in environments where there have been limited opportunities to leave the home due to government imposed lock downs to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

The role of HR leaders has changed! They have to deal with a whole lot of complex issues —including employee support, leadership development, and pay and benefits? What’s your advice on getting all this right for an HR leader?

I think it is all about focusing on the fundamentals and prioritizing your time and resources in your team onto the big challenges that have a high value for both team members and the organization. When we entered the COVID-19 pandemic period, at Kmart, we put in place three guiding principles or objectives and we have anchored our focus as a leadership team around achieving these objectives. Our objectives were:

  • Keeping our customers and team members safe
  • Remaining open in whatever form was possible – click and collect, online, or open physical stores with appropriate social distancing and capacity constraints, to make sure we were there for our customers and able to meet their needs for the products that we sell
  • Take decisions and make plans to ensure we emerge from the pandemic as a stronger organization in the long term – from a financial, customer, team member, and reputational perspective.

What are the top challenges facing organizations globally today amid this transition? Can organizations commit to long-term policies? 

I think the top challenges that organizations are facing today are related to talent. How to attract key talent, develop key talent and importantly retain key talent. The talent pools that used to provide organizations with access to global talent have now dramatically shrunk due to border closures, lack of travel, and potential candidates not wishing to relocate overseas or even within countries. This is going to place even greater pressure on organizations' EVPs and remuneration policies and practices. I think organizations can commit to long-term policies however these need to be well thought through and based on fundamental principles, rather than tactical and now reactions to the market as this will allow for innovation, adaptation, and flexibility in the way these long-term policy objectives are executed and achieved.

The biggest concern for leadership at many corporations is reimagining the future of work post-pandemic. How are you reinventing the future of work at Kmart Australia?

For the vast majority of our team members who work in our 500 plus stores helping make everyday living brighter for our customers, the future of work will remain reasonably similar in the next few years I think, with one notable exception - the increased digitalization and automation of many aspects of their work. This will ebb everything from how the customer navigates within our stores, the way our team members manage inventory flow from supplier to shelf, how they leverage technology, data, and automation to ensure our stores are simple and easy to run, and we are able to know our customers, their needs and preferences in a way that team members have not been able to previously. 

How do you see the world of work evolve in the next 2-3 years? Are leaders going to act on the major lessons that emerged from the crisis? 

I think that leaders who are curious, open-minded, and long-term future focused will embrace the benefits this crisis has provided, learn from the challenges, adapt their organizations, customer propositions, and team member experiences and work practices to not only survive but thrive. The leaders and organizations that can do this will be the winners in a post-COVID-19 world.


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Topics: Strategic HR, #DigitalCultureReset

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